My husband has been working on this beautiful mural in the waiting room of the studio. Using my initials (Amy Riffle-Kouyeas) as inspiration, we named the studio The ARK, and Tom has been working on creating a beautiful ARK mural complete with whales, fish, and our family in our little canoe. He's planning on adding a hot air balloon, and an octopus at least- it'll probably forever be a work in progress. :)
Anyway... this mural is completely unique, and a beautiful central focus to the studio, so I started thinking... how can I use this to teach? I've been looking for new ways to encourage and implement flash cards in the studio, so I started there.
As I build this new studio, I am realizing that each one is unique- and given enough time, each one will evolve. Although I stay the same, the students are all different, with different relationships to one another, and different backgrounds. In this particular group, I am finding that these students struggle a little bit with speed. They are very careful and check and double check that their answers are correct before they are willing to say them, or play them, so when starting a new piece, I am always a little frustrated by what I perceive as a lack of knowledge of notes. Because these kids are progressing at a good rate, I know that they are diligently practicing every week- which is great. What I'd like to do is to find a fun way to encourage them to be more confident with their note reading, so I sat down with my set of flash cards and divided them up into 7 levels.
I typically use the Bastien piano method. I know it's totally old-fashioned and most modern teachers are using Faber and Faber these days. I do like the Faber and Faber supplemental material (the Classical, Hymn, Popular, etc. books are graded and make great recital pieces), but having taught out of several different method books (Bastien, Faber and Faber, Alfred, and Thompson), I still prefer Bastien. For me, it moves at a faster pace, has fewer levels, and moves nicely into the Bastien Piano Literature books- which are genuine literature. Anyway... Level 1 flash cards get students to about the middle of the Primer level- they know the C position notes, quarter time signature, basic dynamics (actually only forte and piano, but come on, if you have 1 f and it means loud, what do you think 2 fs mean?). They've also gotten slurs, ties, and repeat signs as well as intervals 2-5.
Level 2 is the middle of the Primer level. It builds on Level 1, and adds notes for middle C position, and the right hand A, the rests that correspond to the notes they already know, plus eighth notes. Sharps are also introduced, and I added mezzo forte and mezzo piano, because again, come on- it's common sense.
Level 3 finishes out the Primer book adding G position notes, plus staccato and flat. I added the accent- which isn't introduced until Level 1, but it's really early in Level 1 and the totally new stuff doesn't come until the middle of the book, so this was just a better fit here.
Level 4 is the first half of the Level 1 book (somewhat confusing...). It includes the tempo marks and C, F, and G key signatures. My kids should already know their key signatures at this point from their scale work, but this is where Bastien teaches the early key signatures. Random aside- I begin teaching scales and arpeggios as soon as my kids learn how to read C position notes. At that point, they understand their finger numbers, and the white key names, so I just jump in- I deviate from every method book in that way, but I've always had success introducing scales early. It helps my kids understand basic theory, and improves their technique.
Level 5 finishes out the Level 1 book. It includes the left hand higher G position notes- plus the octave G in the right hand, the start of syncopation- the dotted quarter eighth rhythm, dynamic shading, tempo changes, the natural sign, the octave sign, DC al Fine, and the pedal sign. All this before the end of book 1... I do like the pace of Bastien.
Not a lot to add by Level 6- intervals 6 and 7, D major key signature, and fermatas. This is introduced in Book 2.
Level 7 is anything left that is introduced in Books 3 and 4. These include leger line notes, the octave interval, and B-flat major. I'd like to eventually add more key signatures and move beyond 2 accidentals, but they weren't included in this set. Maybe I'll have to make my own or see if Alfred has a second level of flashcards.
On to the game...
So, now there are various levels for students to achieve, with built in guideposts which correspond to their books. At the winter recital, each student was given a set of flashcards as a Thank You/Holiday gift. For their first lesson back, they'll receive handouts of the cards for each levels. Their first task will be finding and identifying the cards they need to know for Level 1. For the yellow, pink, and blue flashcards, students need to be able to give the correct answer in 5 seconds in order to choose their animal and place it on the wall. I have white board foam core which will be cut in animal shapes, and then the students can decorate and add their names. So, they achieve their first level at 5 seconds, then we work to achieve 3 seconds, and once they can give the correct answer in 1 second, Level 2 flashcards will be added. The animal moves to the next wall once they can identify Level 2 cards in 5 seconds. Then they try for 3 seconds, then 1 second, then Level 3 is added. Once they can identify Level 3 cards in 5 seconds, they move to the next wall, and carry on. Because of the way the bathroom juts out into the studio, the animals will begin on the wall with the door, travel around the three outer bathroom walls, and then turn the next two corners (walls 5 and 6). Wall number 7 is the wall with the mural. Once their animal has reached the seventh wall, their animal has reached the Ark and can be placed in the water, sky, or boat- depending on what their animal is- and becomes part of the mural.
I might add small prizes once they achieve the 3 second mark- jumping from 5 seconds to 1 seemed extreme, but identifying notes in 1 second is possible, so that's what I'm shooting for!
This is my first semester trying this out, but I'll try to post updates and share how it goes! Thank you for reading!
Now, go practice with your flashcards!
is a professional pianist, teacher, singer, and Music Director currently residing in Snohomish, Washington. She is the Director of Music at Peace Lutheran Church in Monroe, WA, and also teaches private piano, voice and ukulele lessons at The ARK in Snohomish, WA.